Manage workshop logistics

The duration of the workshop varies based on the complexity of the domain and the nature of the product. Plan accordingly. For example, a feature-parity refactoring effort of a legacy enterprise platform requires a longer workshop. The exercise, in this scenario, turns into an in-depth discovery versus an alignment workshop. It is up to the team to determine the nature of discovery and then inform the client of the inputs and outputs of that process.

Alternatively, a greenfield opportunity is often workshopped in a day or two. That is not to say that further discovery isn’t necessarily later, but if the client is new to Devbridge, a two-day workshop allows the client to gauge our engagement model, build alignment, and make true progress on the definition of the product they’re looking to build.

Use common sense. If you’re romancing the client before they’ve selected vendors, you may get raised eyebrows if you ask to spend two weeks on scoping and discovery.

Here are a few best practices for managing workshop logistics:

  • Survey the location. Is the client coming to the Devbridge office? If so, be sure to create a calendar invite to book the room. Are we going to the client? If yes, ask about the layout and setup of the room. Is there a whiteboard? Projector? Is there enough seating for all attending? Bring the right hardware and adaptors (plus extras in case of technical issues) and printouts of materials as a precaution.
  • Distribute any materials in advance. Send documentation and videos describing processes; inform the participants of the inputs and outputs of the session. Consider sharing thought leadership material around their domain. Consider whether it’s necessary for stakeholders to bring documentation of their domains.
  • Confirm day-of logistics. Ensure people have access and directions to the facility. Assign a single point of contact for orchestration whose mobile number is shared with the group. If this is taking place in our offices, advise the office manager of the workshop to prepare the room.
  • Confirm necessary paperwork (NDAs, MSAs). Have documentation ready in time for the workshop. Leverage the urgency around the workshop to advance the contracting discussion.
  • Schedule dinner. After a long day, cement the relationship over dinner. Take the opportunity to get to know one another. Tactically, having dinner on the evening of the first workshop day is beneficial because there are likely to be topics that you can further flesh out. Meanwhile, the client is starting to appreciate the amount of work they are getting done in the room, so they become more open and willing to share information. Consider being strategic in how you seat people at the table—group together those who can benefit from each other’s insights.
  • Order breakfast, lunch, and snacks. Feed people healthy food—unless they explicitly ask for Chicago deep-dish pizza. You want a focused and engaged group, so making sure they don’t go into an insulin coma is your responsibility. Also, make sure they feel welcome and comfortable in a nicely decorated workshop room with bottles of water and healthy snacks.

Set the tone

While sometimes beyond our control, seating and space preparation contributes to the success of the workshop. It is important to distribute the stakeholders and the cross-functional team throughout the room, preferably in a circular arrangement where everyone can have an open discussion without implied enterprise hierarchy. Leave plenty of space for walking, as well as designated walls or whiteboards for collecting produced material.

Writing surfaces are beneficial because the team will be creating stories for the story-mapping exercise. I like to have a large display screen in the room to display the agenda, current exercise objectives, or other material important to the team during the workshop. Vertical space is critical—multiple whiteboard walls are useful so that the team can stand up, move about, and have access to the working surface at any time.

Bring a few drinks and snacks to the workshop, but don’t go overboard—we want the team focused on the work, not salivating over that deep-dish pizza. From a scheduling perspective, the attention span of an individual starts to wander in under an hour, but by making sessions interactive, you can stretch that to two before everyone needs a break. You will also need time for your cross-functional team to process requirements and prepare exercises, so plan accordingly.

Last, efficiency and speed are the key characteristics that you should practice to set the tone for the workshop. All the people sitting in this room are likely executives and SMEs who have very little time to spare—wasting their time on small talk is not recommended. You need your audience to understand that by skipping a lengthy documentation process and investing their valuable time, they are producing value for the business. The recommendations and design decisions in this room will set the direction for the team.

The product manager or design lead running the session should control the setting, watch the timing, and strictly adhere to schedule. Guide the team away from arguments and long discussions. The workshop is not the time to make final decisions on acceptance criteria for individual features nor to make a deep dive into specific technical constraints. While your audience may not appreciate being interrupted, they will understand it is done for the sake of efficiency and clarity for the team.

“Park” contested topics as sticky notes on the whiteboard and move the discussion along.

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The Secret Source by Aurimas Adomavicius

About the author

Aurimas Adomavicius is the president and co-founder of Devbridge. When not in the trenches working with clients, Aurimas is an active speaker and writer on product design and engineering best practices.

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